The last time I bought something new to wear was July 2014: it was a pretty blue dress for my graduation. Since then, every piece of clothing that found it’s way into my closet has been bought second-hand, inherited or borrowed.
Swearing off shopping altogether might sound impressive, bordering on the self-righteous, but it’s really not. A large part of why I stopped buying new clothes was out of laziness, not just for the environmental high ground (although it does feel pretty great). You might say, “I could never do that”, but it’s much easier than it sounds!
Every purchase you make has implications far beyond your closet. Once you make that realisation it’s easy to consider never buying something new again. But of course, it’s a big leap from consideration to quitting consumerism all together, one that just isn’t possible for everyone.
Disposable fashion has made itself incredibly convenient, even addictive. But over-consumption fuels a toxic supply chain and stuffs landfill sites with impulse buys. We need to demand less from retailers, not more.
There are currently 31 items of clothing in my wardrobe, not including underwear. I am clearly not a minimalist, but I can still describe every piece of clothing that I own. Some I’ve had for years, and they’re still totally wearable, like the summer dress I bought for a picnic in 2010, or the sparkly disco shorts I’ve worn on innumerable nights out.
Fashion changes, but style doesn’t. I dare you to find me one old piece of clothing you own that couldn’t be restyled or altered to look great now. While it goes against the fast changing fashion world, it doesn’t matter; my old clothes suit me. I’ve been wearing them for so long that they’re part of who I am.
Fix up and look sharp
You probably shouldn’t be taking fashion advice from me; I’ve been wearing the same jeans since I was 18.
Not all of us are lucky enough to be the same size we were years ago though. But professionally altering your jeans costs about the same as buying a brand new pair, and they can be tailored to fit you perfectly, rather than the arbitrary sizes by shopping off the rack.
My clothes are old – they show the marks of the stories they’ve lived: buttons are missing and there are irremovable stains and holes everywhere. But if Kanye West can go out in a holey t-shirt, then so can I. Or I try to fix them. Upcycling is slow-fashion’s new buzzword and it’s helping to reform the industry for the better.
Thanks to the rise of the hipster, vintage is growing astronomically. Historically the reserve of the older generation, second-hand shops, flea markets and thrift stores are now full of young fashionistas trying to find something cool.
It helps that dressing like an 80-year-old seems to be back in style. The other day my friend commented that I look like “Hermione’s grandma”, which is not a bad thing when you’re wearing an oversized camel coat (€8 from Amsterdam’s Ij-Hallen flea market) and a hat you found on the floor of a bus. Style is about what makes you feel good. Look weird: you don’t need to blend in.
I’m lucky enough to live in Berlin, where there are flea markets every other day and second-hand clothing is easy to come by, but for those who don’t have the luxury of four different thrift stores in walking distance, there are lots of online communities where people trade vintage clothes.
- It’s cheap!
- You’re automatically hip.
- You get to say the sentence “Thanks! It’s vintage.” whenever someone compliments your dress.
- You can’t always get what you want (but when can you ever? Disposable fashion is dictated by mass popularity, not necessarily by what’s fashionable).
- It’s rare that you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for so don’t go along with a vision in mind. Be open to finding something totally different.
Fashion recycles. A few years ago it was the 60s, now the 70s is seeing a revival. Current fashion trends revolve wearing exclusive, original clothes and looking a bit like your parents did when they were younger (plus iPhone). The best way to get this look is with authentic old clothes, and where better to get them than from someone who lived it?
If everyone shared their clothes with another person, we’d need to produce half as many clothes.
I have “accidentally borrowed” about a fifth of the clothes I now call mine: somehow I’ve acquired my boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend’s jumper, his sister’s black top, some of his shirts, my mum’s old scarf and a couple of hats too.
Certain items are totally impossible to source second-hand – I draw the line at buying used underwear, but there are still options that don’t involve throw-away fashion. Set your own goals, find what’s right for you. Fashion has never been about what everyone is wearing. It’s about feeling amazing in your clothes, be they riddled with holes, six years old or a golden thrift store find.
Maybe you’ll reduce the amount of new clothes you buy, or maybe you’ll bite the bullet and vow to make everything yourself. Start small: this Black Friday, just buy nothing.
Chiara Milford is a freelance writer living in Berlin. She tries to live an environmentally friendly existence.
Take it slow: For Fashion Revolution week commit to a long-term relationship with your clothes. Wear things more than 30 times, and cherish each piece. Because clothes are precious things.